As Puerto Rico recovers from Hurricane Maria, small business loans can play important role

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, a Kiva borrower named Matilsha is fighting for her livelihood in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

About 40% of small businesses won’t open their doors again after a natural disaster, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

As the founder and CEO of Con Calma, a fair trade and sustainable lifestyle brand, Matilsha is leveraging a Kiva loan to help her small business’s doors stay open. 

Matilsha was the first Kiva borrower to receive a loan in Puerto Rico following the September hurricane, which devastated the island’s infrastructure

Prolonged electricity outages left Con Calma’s store non-operational for a period, threatening the company’s distribution chain and revenue. 

In October, Matilsha’s loan request for $10,000 was posted on Kiva and in less than 2 days it was fully funded. 

About half of this loan will be used to manufacture additional units of Con Calma’s handbag line, while the other will be used for operational expenses and to establish new international retail channels.

“There’s a real need for quick access to capital [in Puerto Rico], and Kiva is able to provide borrowers capital for their businesses in less than 2 weeks… Any small business that can obtain at most $10,000 [on Kiva] to continue is one more business that is providing jobs, services and helping rebuild our island,” said Ana Maria, the Kiva lead in Puerto Rico. 

Directly after the hurricane hit, Ana Maria met with partners and trustees to start providing information to borrowers about new loan repayment periods, alternative work spaces and other tools that could help them stay operational.

Kiva is extending a 6 month grace period to borrowers in Puerto Rico who are currently repaying loans or who are endorsed by a trustee and fundraise for a new loan. 

This grace period allows borrowers to temporarily stop repayments on their Kiva loans in order to focus on rebuilding and redefining what their businesses will become after this natural disaster. 

For Matilsha, this means focusing on improving distribution avenues. Since her Kiva loan, Con Calma has secured 5 new partnerships with retailers.

Eager to help those looking for the same success, Ana Maria is determined to onboard more potential Kiva borrowers in an effort to revitalize small business in Puerto Rico. 

But the power shortages have affected her work as well, Ana Maria has been collecting loan applications that are all written out by hand. 

For other Kiva borrowers, Ana Maria has helped with solutions such as the co-working spaces sponsored by the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce. 

These are free spaces for entrepreneurs to work in while regrouping, with access to the internet and other tools they might need.

She has also collaborated with Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, an institution committed to rebuilding Puerto Rico, to provide workshops and develop projects for potential and funded borrowers.

Distributing information about resources such as these has made Ana Maria a key point of contact for many borrowers. 

Matilsha is the first borrower to use Kiva to revitalize her small business, but Ana Maria is confident that more borrowers will be fundraising soon and Kiva loans have a valuable role to play in the reconstruction of Puerto Rico’s economy. 

"Sometimes small businesses are left aside because they are too small," said Matilsha. "But, I do believe small businesses are the mortar of the economy. So thank you for considering us and supporting the Kiva team in Puerto Rico."

About the author

Carly Bertolozzi